BMW, Guggenheim salvage Berlin 'lab' after threats

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German automaker BMW and New York's Guggenheim Museum said Tuesday they have found a new site in Berlin for an urban design "laboratory" after irate residents of a trendy district forced them out.

The BMW Guggenheim Lab, which is on a tour of cities around the globe, had been scheduled to arrive on a vacant lot in the Kreuzberg area of the German capital in May for a two-month stint before continuing on to Mumbai.

But organisers pulled the plug last month after several threats of vandalism attributed to residents angry that the Lab could spur on rapidly rising rents in the area and who protested BMW's use of slave labour during World War II.

The row sparked a heated debate in cash-strapped Berlin, which has a meagre industrial base and has looked to culture and tourism to drive its economic recovery but where concerns about affordable housing are running high.

Mayor Klaus Wowereit, who famously called the German capital "poor but sexy", got personally involved in efforts to ensure the project could still launch in Berlin -- with success, the Guggenheim said Tuesday.

The Lab, which calls itself a forum to discuss urban architecture, technology and sustainability, will now open June 15 to July 29 in the upscale Prenzlauer Berg district of the former communist east, which has undergone rapid gentrification in the two decades since the Berlin Wall fell.

"The decision to relocate the Lab was not an easy one, but we are very pleased to have so quickly confirmed such a suitable alternative and to continue the urgent and important discussions we have begun about cities," said Richard Armstrong, director of the Guggenheim Museum and Foundation, in a statement.

The Pfefferberg site that was selected is a sprawling former brewery and factory that already hosts artists' studios, galleries and restaurants.

The Lab plans to visit nine cities over six years. Its opening in New York last August also met with anti-gentrification protests.

Berlin ranks as one of Europe's most affordable cities but has seen a sharp rise in property prices since the Wall fell in 1989.

© 2012 AFP

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